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VL.jpgSamuel Johnson said “there is in London all that life can afford.” Two centuries on, his paean to our capital holds as true as ever.

London’s charms and assets are as varied as her culture and heritage are rich. Think Shakespeare and Dickens. Chelsea and Arsenal. Elizabeth the First and Second. St Paul’s Cathedral and the Gherkin. ExCel London and the O2 Arena. Ramsay and the Ritz.

It’s Visit London’s job to remind the world of all these riches. But this week, the future of the capital’s tourist board is in doubt.

Despite London Mayor Boris Johnson’s protestations that tourism remains a cornerstone of his development strategy for the city, the anticipated withdrawal of the London Development Agency’s £12m funding of Visit London has left many concerned that it will be forced to close next year.

With the 2012 Olympic Games now considerably less than two years away, it’s hard to think of a worse time for London to lose the organization responsible for promoting it overseas.

It’s not just hospitality, conference and event operators in the capital that should be worried. London is the conduit through which the majority of the country’s overseas visitors flow. By promoting London, Visit London promotes the whole country.

There’s sound logic behind the calls for Visit London to live on. With the organization generating an estimated £300m revenue against its £12m costs annually, closing it would represent a false economy.

Mayor Johnson is in negotiation with the government to secure some level of funding for economic development in the capital. He must avoid taking a backward step in these negotiations; and he must apportion a meaningful portion of the funding he is able to secure to underwriting Visit London. If he does not, the full legacy of the 2012 Games will be realized.

Visit London’s funding is scheduled to end on March 31 next year. If our capital’s tourist board is allowed to close a year before the games, we’ll all look like April Fools in the eyes of the world.